Original article| Volume 60, ISSUE 10, P1131-1138, November 15, 2006

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Behavioral and Electrophysiological Markers of Selective Attention in Children of Parents with a History of Depression


      Individual differences in selective attention may play a role in moderating psychological vulnerabilities by shaping the ability to self-regulate emotion. Children of parents with childhood-onset depression (COD) are at increased risk for socioemotional difficulties. This study examined potential differences in selective attention as a function of parental COD.


      Children (n = 33, ages 6 to 10) participated in a Posner cued attention task under neutral and affective conditions. Behavioral (reaction time [RT]; errors) and event-related potential (ERP) data were collected during the task.


      Performance in the Posner task under the affective condition was marked by significant decreases in RTs, an increase in errors, and an increased validity effect (difference in RTs to the cued vs. uncued trials) relative to performance under neutral conditions. Children of parents with COD were slower in their response rates compared with control children. The at-risk children also showed larger P3 and slow wave amplitudes in anterior scalp sites, particularly during the affective Posner task.


      These data suggest that there are subtle deficits in selective attention among the offspring of individuals with COD, requiring that they engage more processing resources to perform effectively. This may affect their ability to adequately regulate emotion under stress.

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